VICTORIA — An intense new round of power-sharing talks are underway between B.C.’s Green, Liberal and NDP parties, but there’s more than just the issues on the table for the leaders.
Policy, personalities and the cold hard math of the seat count in the legislature are three of the biggest factors as the NDP and Liberals begin their tentative outreach to the Greens in hopes of lining-up a deal to secure the seats for a future majority government, said Hamish Telford, a political-science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Without the Green support, neither the Liberals nor the NDP have enough votes to pass a budget or throne speech in the legislature.
“In the public’s mind, it’s probably the policy configuration” that’s most important, said Telford. “But the other two factors weigh larger for the leaders.”
Green Leader Andrew Weaver has said he wants a deal by May 31, to give the province stability over a two-, three- or even four-year term.
“We’re obviously working with both parties to see where we can find commonalities, where compromise exists,” he said Wednesday.
That kind of lengthy accord is likely “overly optimistic” based on the average 18-month life of minority governments, said Telford. “I think two years is generally as much as one can hope for.”
The Greens and NDP are the most closely aligned on policy. Both oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and want to stop or review the Site C dam. The Greens have a more aggressive plan to double the carbon tax. The parties also align generally on social issues, and want to ban corporate and union political donations.
They also both favour proportional representation, though NDP Leader John Horgan insisted Wednesday a referendum must come first. “I think if you are going to change the electoral system you should ask people about that,” said Horgan. “It’s their system, not mine. I feel strongly about that.” However, both parties could be satisfied with, say, a three-year accord to govern that would give enough time for both a referendum and then a change to PR.
The Greens and Liberals have worked together in the past on legislation banning mandatory high heels in the workplace and improving post-secondary, sexual-assault policies. But their two platforms are “quite dramatically far away” on major issues like Site C, Kinder Morgan and environmental protection, Weaver has said.
That clear distinction could actually work in Weaver’s favour, giving him a clear identity in any deal with the Liberals, said David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University. “I do think there’s a risk Weaver gets lost in the NDP to a larger extent than the Liberals.”
“If he gets the bulk of what he wants, say a shot at proportional representation and big money out of politics, he might end up looking better co-operating with the Liberals if he thinks his supporters will ultimately forgive him.”
The party advantages are flipped on personalities.
Premier Christy Clark and Weaver have proven to work well together in the past, and spoken respectfully of one another. Horgan and Weaver have publicly sparred. Horgan has been dismissive of Weaver’s importance in the past, and NDP surrogates delivered withering attacks against Weaver’s character during the election. Weaver has called Horgan and his party an uninspiring bunch of hypocrites. Horgan’s direct presence on the bargaining team is seen as an attempt to repair that relationship face-to-face with Weaver.
“In this situation it’s not just working together, but they have to be able to trust each other,” said Telford.
And then there’s the seat count. A Green-NDP alliance would combine for 44 seats, a bare majority. Subtract a seat for the Speaker, and it’s a tie on votes, broken by the Speaker. All MLAs would need to be in the legislature every day to prevent the government from falling.
“The arithmetic is more precarious with the NDP and Greens, even though the two are more compatible,” said veteran political scientist Norman Ruff. “There’d be enormous pressure … the government would exist essentially at the whim of the Liberals.”
A Green-Liberal alliance would net 46 seats, giving more breathing room for MLAs to take personal days, and for ministers to travel. Weaver dismissed that as a potential positive this week, saying a 44-seat margin with the NDP would still be a stable workable majority.
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